Is Rent Really A Racial Issue?

Today’s front-page article in the Los Angeles Times about one family’s struggle to find affordable housing after being forced to vacate their long-time Echo Park residence does much to illustrate the need for affordable housing, but also contains a common thread that I often see in articles about rising rents in previously low-rent areas:

She and Sanchez talked for a while about what was happening to them. The whites were moving in, they agreed, pushing out the Latinos, the immigrants. “It seems a little bit like discrimination, doesn’t it?” Sanchez wondered.

It is discrimination. But on the basis of cash, not on the basis of race. I feel that too often race enters into the equation when talking about housing. Yes, it is a side effect that more whites are moving into areas that were predominantly Latino, but is that the real issue? I am still trying to decide if turning an economic discussion(property owners want to increase profit, renters want to decrease spending) into a racial issue(whites want to move in, Latinos have to move out) is actually counterproductive to finding a real solution. Does it prevent an open dialogue about what is actually happening(lack of affordable housing)?

I am still trying to develop my thoughts on the issue(if there even is one), and I invite your comments.

28 Replies to “Is Rent Really A Racial Issue?”

  1. I have a friend who was trying to rent a 2br in Venice. He’s a successful working filmmaker and his wife has a stable gig as an Art Director at a well known ad agency. They have spotless credit, but couldn’t afford a house. On top of that, they were thinking about moving. The only problem, they are Korean. The landlord asked for 5 refrence letters, a 10,000 dollar deposit, and a bank statement showing 20,000 dollars sitting in it. Needless to say they thought something was up.

    So I put on the my worst shirt, didn’t shave, messed up the hair, and wore the sneakers with the hole in the toe. The landlord gave me a wierd look, but only 1 refrence letter was needed along with first and last months rent as a deposit. Racism? We think so.

  2. Last summer (05), I did an internship with the Los Angeles Urban Project. Public service, yes, but also a chance for me to learn a lot about social justice. One thing we discussed was white privilege (which I guess isn’t exclusively white anymore). Yeah, this is definitely more a money issue than a race issue, but it IS about race at the heart of it. Part of the reason white tenants can drive rent prices up–i.e., part of the reason they can afford to pay higher rent–is that they’re white. There’s a certain amount of oppression that’s built into our system; it’s just the way things are. So I would say that this is a race issue, but no more than a lot of other things.

    I dunno, does that make sense?

  3. It’s a depressing story, and there is certainly a need for more low-income housing in Los Angeles. However, is anyone surprised they can’t find a place that will hold EIGHT people? And that landlords with single rooms refuse to rent to them? What does racism have to do with it?

    I didn’t read one sentence in the story saying that a landlord refused to rent to them b/c they were Latino or illegal immigrants. They couldn’t find a place b/c there are eight of them and they can only afford a single room or a really cheap one-bedroom.

    How well are these six kids going to do in school with no room to study, sleep or play?

    If they had another kid, things would be even worse for them – they’d have less money for rent, have less room, and find even fewer options of places to live. Would that make the landlords even more racist?

  4. $662? $1000? 6 kids? Racism? More like stupidity. And a problem in Venice because you are Korean, sure possible, but not common at all.

  5. When my husband and I were looking for a place in the Conejo Valley (including Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks), most of the people who put out ads were pretty nice to us and had no problems giving us applications for renting. But there was one guy in Agoura Hills who was weird. I had talked to his wife earlier that day, and she set it up so her husband would show us the condo. We liked the price, so we wanted to apply, but he said he didn’t have any applications and that we had to call his wife the next day to get one.

    So we called her all day the second day and got her voicemail. We even called the husband but he said to keep trying her and that she was in the air. The third day, we finally got ahold of the wife, but it turns out the husband had rented the place out the second day – the same day we had been trying to get a hold of her JUST to get an application.

    Weird? You decide. My husband is black and I’m Filipino. The price or the deposit wasn’t a problem at all; in fact, we’re paying more than that in the place we finally found, a little further up the street. My husband’s credit was not a problem, since we didn’t even get a chance to apply. But it doesn’t matter – we’re so much happier with the place we got, because the landlady is a sweetheart, and she liked us as much as we liked her.

    Because if that guy was truly racist, and we jumped through those hoops because of it, then I wouldn’t have wanted him as my landlord anyway.

    Heh, I’m not sure where my situation fits in, since you guys are talking about white people moving into areas and pushing out the poorer, brown residents. My husband and I are upper middle class in terms of income, I believe, but the fact that we’re a mixed race couple seems to color (no pun intended) perceptions of us in the mostly white Conejo Valley.

  6. I libe in atwater village. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc are all moving in. Couples/Gay and Straight, Couples with kids, Single people , etc are all moving in. People who can afford to lve on the wst side but want the eclectic vibe are moving in. People who are stretching their dollar and like the area are moving in.

    Lay off the race issue. People who want to own are being priced out of the crowded expensive spots and need somewhere to go. People who have homes that have 6 family members in it and are charging 400 a month and want to rent for 2k are going for it.

    50 years ago this area was working to middle class. 20 years ago it was working class til now. Now its back. It all goes in waves.

    Grow up.

  7. I libe in atwater village. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc are all moving in. Couples/Gay and Straight, Couples with kids, Single people , etc are all moving in. People who can afford to lve on the wst side but want the eclectic vibe are moving in. People who are stretching their dollar and like the area are moving in.

    Lay off the race issue. People who want to own are being priced out of the crowded expensive spots and need somewhere to go. People who have homes that have 6 family members in it and are charging 400 a month and want to rent for 2k are going for it.

    50 years ago this area was working to middle class. 20 years ago it was working class til now. Now its back. It all goes in waves.

    Grow up.

  8. It could be a race issue if you have lots of Latinos with the income looking to rent in the area. Blatant discrimination in housing (hello, restrictive covenants) occurred in the not-so-distant past.

    The thing about race and class is that they are so confounded that it’s hard, even for statisticians, to control for the effect of the other.

  9. I agree that it’s not a race issue as much as it is a class issue, and the two are interrelated. However, more than that, I think the whole thing’s a myth.

    According to studies done by both Columbia and Duke University, low-income residents in gentrifiying neighborhoods are barely more likely to move than those in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. In fact, one of the studies showed it actually made it LESS likely for a resident to move. Here’s a USA Today article about it:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-04-19-gentrification_x.htm

    And I love this quote from the article:

    Vigdor argues that hatred of gentrification is largely irrational: “We were angry when the middle class moved out of the city,” he says. “Now we’re angry when they move back.”

  10. If you feel you’re being discriminated at any point in a housing application process please document everything and contact the proper authorities:
    http://www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm
    http://www.lacity.org/lahd/fairhsng.htm

    Every level of government has laws on the book and you don’t need to hire a lawyer to see justice. Just go to google, type in “housing discrimination” and the city in which the persecution occured.

    The lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles is a crisis. But housing discrimination is real. The two aren’t as independent as some would like to think, and both need to be dealt with seriously.

  11. It’s amazing how quick people are to conclude this is not a race issue. Ask any landlord in Los Angeles and they will tell you they would rather rent to whites because they believe whites are less problematic than Latinos and Blacks.

    I have a good friend who rents homes in Atwater and Glassel Park and she says she will not rent to Latinos or Blacks (she is black). She says black and Latino tenants always have an excuse for not paying the rent.

    And, let’s be clear here, whites didn’t move into Echo Park because of affordable rent. They moved to EP because they like the culture (particularly the Latino vibe), but they are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

    It just amazes me that all these suburban white kids from Calabasas and the OC want to live here. I guess they are starving from something different than their sterile white upbrining. And because of that, Latinos have to move to San Bernandino. Que lastima.

    BTW: It seems like people on this post would have Latinos have less kids just like whites. Perhaps we should replace our kids for dogs just like whites too.

  12. It is a class issue. I have been here in Echo Park since ’89. Numerous whites have had to move further east to Highland Park and beyond when the places they rented were sold and fixed up for higher rent. Echo Park’s largest population is Hispanic. Whites a minority. I bet if you could look at the numbers of displaced renters in proportion to population it would be pretty equal. Since Hispanics are the larger number, they are the majority being moved out. It is a numbers thing, not a race thing.

    I think it is very narrow-minded of the person who posted a Atwater landlord’s racist comment to make blanket statements based on one idiot’s belief.

  13. Let me recap the story told in the article: Two people seeking their fortune came thousands of miles and broke the law to come to a new city, where they found jobs, love, and peace. Despite their questionable decision to raise six children on salaries and living space more fit for two, they got by reasonably, until today, when they are faced with the awful prospect of maybe moving 30 miles east.

    Come on. In America (and CA especially) everything’s in flux and people can move where they want. That’s how they got here.

    It’s absurd to think that people weren’t going to want to move to a beautiful hilly neighborhood one mile from the city center of the country’s second-biggest city. (Once the odds of being mugged by 13-year-olds fell below a certain point.) No matter what the composition was before.

  14. I don’t think the LA Times story is particularly relevant to race, but if you dismiss the race issue when it comes to the rental market, you need to educate yourself about housing in LA, and the world, in general. I know of Asian landlords who discriminate against Hispanics and blacks.. I’ve heard of Latino landlords who discriminated against blacks. And yes, there are cases of white landlords discriminating against non-whites. It clearly is an issue – if you don’t think so, you know nothing about the rental market.

  15. I think everybody’s getting way off track. The question isn’t whether there’s such a thing as housing discrimination based on race. It’s whether the process of gentrification and rising rents “driving out” lower income residents is inherently racist.

  16. Based on my review of these comments it’s abundantly clear that where whites see no discrimination, Latinos and African Americans do. I think whites have a hard time comprehending that discrimination occurs because it’s not something they have to contemplate or confront (e.g., see the comment above that anyone can move wherever they want).

    And, let’s be clear, housing discrimination is at its zenith when a neighborhood is being gentrified because Landlords have an option of not renting to Blacks or Latinos. Echo Park and Highland Park have gone this way; Boyle Heights is next.

    Finally, in response to one of the previous posters, Latinos are being displaced diproportionately. Just ask the Housing Law Center and Legal Aid.

  17. How funny how everyone throws a fit over this, but there’s nothing to be said about the reverse discrimination that takes place in nearly all of the los angeles basin. political correctness at it’s best!

  18. And, let’s be clear, housing discrimination is at its zenith when a neighborhood is being gentrified because Landlords have an option of not renting to Blacks or Latinos.

    Again, you’re hijacking the thread to make a different point. Nobody in the article is saying that they are being refused rentals because they’re Latino, which is what this discussion has turned into. Instead they’re saying they and other low-income residents can no longer afford the rent (note the title of the article is “Low pay, high rent, wit’s end”), and that it seems like discrimination. Hexodus is interested in hearing if people think that’s truly a race issue, or an economic issue. Not whether some landlords discriminate based on race.

  19. Yes, to bring it back to my initial inquiry(and I apologize profusely if it was unclear) I am trying to understand more what is happening in aggregate, rather than on a case-by-case basis.

    Certainly we all have stories about landlords making a decision based on race(ask me about trying to move into Little Tokyo years ago), but my point here is to examine whether or not there is an overarching policy of racism.

    Indeed, much of it is built into class structure, and that at leat in Los Angeles this can divide along racial lines.

    However, I can’t figure out if there would be a policy that would penalize landlords who provide housing to minorities – I mean I could not imagine that there are higher insurance rates in these cases for instance. More likely the actions of some landlords reflect their own personal bias.

    The evidence that I have seen suggests that it is a matter of economics. I would feel differently though if it was shown that Mexican families were asked to move out of an apartment complex, while white people are invited to stay even if they both demonstrate the same ability to pay rent.

  20. I think race is an issue, but whites don’t see it that way because race is of no consequence for them (the off the wall comment about reverse discrimiantion nothwithstanding).

    HEXODUS: demonstarting the same ability to pay rent will still leave Latinos out in the cold. The fact is most landlords happen to be white or Asian and they are more comfortable renting to whites. Their ideas of Blacks and Latinos are informed by media and, unfortunately, the picture depicted of non-whites is less than flattering.

  21. I am a hispanic who’s lived in Echo Park since I married my (also hispanic born and raised in Echo Park) wife in the late 80s. We own two apartment buildings, one of which is in Echo Park. By absolute coincidence, one of them is fully populated by white tenants and the other is fully rented to hispanic families. In my own personal experience, renting to hispanics families has been a real chore. I’ve had several instances in which the real number of tenants is misrepresented, rents are late, tenants hide when I need to talk to them (about rent usually), and I get the most ridiculous calls about arguments between them. This is not particular to one specific tenant, sadly. On the other hand, the other building, where only whites live, I honestly have to drive by every now and then to make sure they still live there! I get the rent in my mailbox on a timely basis and rarely do I hear anything from those folks. I have friends who also own properties and, while not as blatantly obvious as in my case, they do have similar stories. I don’t want to generalize, nor imply that one race/culture is better than other, but I, as an apartment building owner, would have to heavily rely on past experiences when deciding whom to rent to… and I fear it would not be to my own.
    I’ve personally seen how my own street has changed from nearly 100% hispanic to ~40% so. It has driven the home prices enormously and gentrification has been a good thing for us as it’s helped property owners enormously. I rather enjoy the changes that the neighborhood has experienced as a result. I see more people walking just for the sake of doing so, love the art galleries, the whole vibe is different. I’m waiting to see what becomes of the vintage gas station on Avalon and Echo Park and of the corner lot on Baxter and Echo Park, so that’ll be interesting.

  22. It also appears that Latinos also don’t like renting to other Latinos. And, HONTHEGO’s comments only demonstrate that she or he does not know how to identify worthy tenants.

  23. It also appears that Latinos also don’t like renting to other Latinos.

    In any event, HONTHEGO’s comments only demonstrate that she or he does not know how to identify worthy tenants.

    I would also say that EP has changed. It’s different than it used to be. It has not improved, however; it’s only different. And, if things keep up and Latinos are further pushed out, the character of the neighborhood that so many white people claim to value will be lost.

  24. The main reason that my husband and I moved to Echo Park a few years back was because of economics. We found a little one bedroom fixer upper that must of been the last “cheap” house sold in the area. Besides us, there was only one other white person on the block. The house was on the market a long time, too. Anyone of any color had the opportunity to buy it, we just happened to be the ones who did.

    Several people in the neighborhood were nice to us when we moved in. I think that they were happy to see us there because the place was apparently a longtime problem rental (to mostly whites, from what I understand). On one side we had fantastic neighbors from Ecuador. The other side was a four unit rental, and the two units closest to us were a nightmare. They were rude to our attempts at being neighborly. Weekly they would put large trash items on our property and throw beer cans into our back yard. Daily they would wash dirt and debris from their sidewalk on to ours. They were loud and inconsiderate. Soon after we moved in one tenant actually asked us “How dare you buy that house in this neighborhood and fix it up to look nice and plant all of those plants. Don’t you know what kind of people live here?”

    We could not believe this response to our presence. What, because we were white we could not buy a house there? Yes, the block was not the nicest, but we were OK with that. We did spend a lot of time checking out the house before we bought it – sitting in front of it at all hours of the night, etc. Always seemed quiet and peaceful.

    Looking back, I understand his statement. I’m sure he feared that the landlord would kick them out as the neighborhood gentrified. In fact, the owner of the property did fix up the place and tried to sell it. He asked for way too much money and it never sold. But the longtime tenants got a nicer place to live.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the house the neighbors that we got along with really well started renting a unit on their property for a lot of money (especially for the space) to non-whites. Although the owners lived there, they put up with some horrible behavior because the rent helped them with their mortgage payments. They could not afford to jeopordize that income. Those renters made a point to let us know that they hated us too.

    After a little more than two years we got fed up with feeling like we were being pushed out. We ended up selling the house for the same price that we paid for a smaller place not too far from there.

    The neighbors that we got along with actually had tears in their eyes when we told them that we were selling. We felt really bad because we enjoyed their family and kindness.

    I’m sure that we made cultural missteps when we moved in to the neighborhood, probably bringing on some of the resentment. But I also think that there were preconceived ideas of who we were and what we were about. Contrary to the notions of a lot of long-time residents, many of the whites that moved into Echo Park did so for the same reason we did, to buy an affordable house without leaving the city. We didn’t have a trust fund. Mommy and Daddy weren’t paying our way. We weren’t “slumming it.” We had worked hard for every penny that went into that house, as our neighbors did for their mortgages and rents. We were sad to realize that we couldn’t continue to live there.

    Yes, things are easier for us – we are white, first of all. I do not deny that racism plays a role in the housing market. I’ve seen it happen. But I do feel that what is going on right now is largely a product of money and a lack of affordability. Whenever an apartment next to us did open up the renters were not white. In these cases the renter was willing to pay a lot for a little and that’s all that mattered to the owner.

    I also can’t help but think that some gentrification can transform a neighborhood in positve ways for long time residents. Look how much better the gang situation has become in Echo Park, for instance. Look at the film center and its work with the kids of the community. The neighbors who hated us so much got a backyard and more space to play with their children (instead of a literal trash pile) after we cleaned our place up.

    Certainly there need to be protections in Echo Park and elsewhere for low income residents. And the out of control housing market needs to flatten out so normal people can afford a place to live. Unfortunately, the greed of some non-resident home and apartment owners has fueled an anger that is being taken out on the newer, non-hispanic residents. The different peoples of Echo Park need to band together and embrace the inevitable changes, mold the neighborhood into what they want it to be. It really is a fantastic community and with some positive direction, instead of infighting, you can do battle with those forces who really are messing it up (Walgreens, large developers, LA Unified, to name a few).

  25. The neighbors had tears in their eyes, people! Tears!

    Indeed, let us all shed a tear for the plight of white people in gentrifying areas.

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